Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ex-Police Beat Reporter Tom Suk Calls It Quits at the Local Paper; If Nothing Else, the Guy Proved He Could Take a Punch

I hear that Tom Suk is retiring from the local paper.

As far as I'm concerned, Suk is one of the most famous reporters ever to work at the place.

According to my friend Ken Fuson, Suk got punched in the mouth at a parade.

In my book [well, Suk really isn't in my book. I'm just using the words "in my book" to illustrate something], that made him famous.

More on the punching incident later.

First, some background.

I didn't know Tom Suk all that well. He hung around the police station a lot, and I've always tried to stay away from the police station.

So we didn't see much of each other.

But I think Suk was the guy who wore a big western hat -- I used to call that kind of hat a "cowboy hat" -- in the office.

That got him a lot of attention.

Suk probably even wore the big cowboy hat at the police station, too, when he had to deal with the cops while working on a big story for the local paper.

For many years, I also wondered how Tom Suk preferred to have his name pronounced. And I'm not talking about the name Tom. I'm pretty sure how guys named Tom like to have their name pronounced.

I mean Suk.

I never wanted to mispronounce Suk's name because I didn't want to get punched.

So I checked with a Des Moines resident the other day who knows a lot about names and how they're supposed to be pronounced.

He said Suk's name rhymes with the word "cook."

That settles that.

The only communication I can recall having with Tom Suk came a few years ago. The way I remember it, Suk was planning a trip to the Czech Republic. I think it was a vacation trip. I doubt the local paper was paying for it.

Hell, they wouldn't pay for lunch at Ames after a team [how's that for a newspaper word?] of reporters and columnists had spent 10 hours working on a story about why a coach was being fired.

Maybe Suk's vacation trip overseas was even before the Czech Republic had changed from being just plain old Czechoslovakia.

Anyway, Suk e-mailed me and asked if I knew where a guy named Milan Something-Or-Other was living in the Czech Republic.

I call the guy Milan Something-Or-Other because I've forgotten his last name. Czech names are sometimes long and complicated -- and headline writers aren't fond of them.

So I'll just keep calling him Milan Something-Or-Other.

Milan Something-Or-Other had spent a few weeks as a sort of exchange journalist at the local paper.

Somehow, Milan Something-Or-Other became my project. He was my guest on Thanksgiving Day, and we made sure he got his belly full with turkey and all the fixin's.

I think Milan Something-Or-Other liked the turkey and also the fixin's. I'm pretty sure he asked for seconds.

Earlier that fall, I had taken Milan Something-Or-Other to Ames to meet Jim Walden, who was losing a lot of games while coaching Iowa State's football team.

Walden was nice to Milan Something-Or-Other. He gave him a Cyclone football helmet, which I assume is now sitting inside the castle in which he now lives in the Czech Republic.

I also took Milan Something-Or-Other to an Iowa State game at Jack Trice Stadium. He spent most of the afternoon taking pictures from the sideline.

It was a cold day. Milan Something-Or-Other showed me how tough he was, standing on the sideline on that frigid afternoon. I don't even think his lens got foggy.

I sent Milan Something-Or-Other a letter a few weeks after he left Des Moines, telling him now nice it was to visit us. I maybe sent him a few newspaper clippings, and told him we'd like to see him again sometime.

Milan Something-Or-Other must have forgotten me and also my mailing address, because I've never heard from him.

I asked Dave Westphal, who then was my managing editor, if he'd ever heard from Milan Something-Or-Other.

"No," Westphal said. "I think he was a spy."

Maybe that was supposed to be a joke. Maybe not.

I never heard if Suk found Milan Something-Or-Other on his trip. I certainly hope they made connections.

And I want to wish Suk the best in his retirement.

He got a nice going-away e-mail from one of the people he worked for, or with. It was considerably nicer than the snotty, one-sentence going-away e-mail veteran reporter Frank Santiago got from a guy he worked for, or with, last week.

Before I draw too many conclusions about Santiago's exit from the local paper, I should remember that his retirement may still be covered in Randy Brubaker's blog.

Of course, then nobody would read it.

That would probably be all right, too.

Here's the announcement on Suk:

"From: Belt, Deb
"Sent: Thursday, October 27, 2005 9:41 AM
"Subject: Suk's retiring


"After 31 years at the Des Moines Register, nearly 20 of them spent breaking news on the night cops beat, reporter Tom Suk is retiring. His last day is next Wednesday, Nov. 2 -- more on party plans to come. But, Tom will be working next Monday through Wednesday before heading off to balmy Texas.

"Tom covered the Des Moines Police Department's war on gangs and drugs in the 1980s and early '90s, regularly scooping TV stations with overnight news and being on the scene as bullets were flying. For the last 10 years or so, Tom has covered Warren County, Des Moines' south side and for the last two years, the city of West Des Moines, respectively. Tom's work has included complete coverage of the Rodney Heemstra murder case, the Milo farmer who shot his neighbor in a land dispute, and the arrests of several metro residents in an illegal sports gambling ring. Spot news has kept him busy in the 'burbs, including coverage of Pierre Pierce's arrest and heated suburban spats over a new Wal-Mart, annexation and the construction of Jordan Creek Town Center.

"Anyone interested in the newsy West Des Moines beat should see John Gaps or me by noon next Friday, Nov. 4. We need someone ready to hit the mean streets of West Des Moines and keep readers updated on development strife and political manueverings in the state's ninth-largest city."

Deb Belt
Community Publications Editor
Des Moines Register
P.O. Box 957
Des Moines, Ia. 50304
Phone: 284-8198
Fax: 284-8152

[MORE FROM RON MALY: Nice going, Tom. You survived in the newspaper jungle longer than anyone could have predicted these days. Enjoy life in Texas. I hope you kept that cowboy hat. I'll bet it will come in handy where you're going. And now for the story about you from Ken Fuson. Ken, the local paper's humor columnist, mentioned it a couple of months ago when he spoke to a group of retirees from the local paper. Here's the story: "Tom Suk, a police reporter, showed up at a parade to do a feature story. A guy said, 'Who are you?' Suk said, 'I'm Tom Suk of the Des Moines Register.' Then the guy hit him in the mouth. You know what, I don't tell anybody I'm Tom Suk anymore."]